Phillies, Joe Girardi had better start winning soon

PHILADELPHIA — It’s been a trying 15 days for the Phillies.

With Monday’s 5-4 home loss to the Giants in 10 innings, they’ve dropped 11 of their last 15 to sink seven games under .500 for the first time since the end of the 2017 season (66-96). Several of the defeats have come in brutal fashion.

The bullpen, defense and some decisions by manager Joe Girardi have been significant factors in the Phillies’ struggles.

While the 21-28 Phils are less than 50 games into a 162-game schedule, things are going to have to change soon if they plan to make the postseason for the first time since 2011 — even with the field expanded to three wild-card teams in addition to the three division champions.

The Mets' Jeff McNeil, 3, celebrates his three-run homer with teammate Francisco Lindor as the Phillies' J.T. Realmuto looks on during New York's 8-2 win Saturday.

The Mets’ Jeff McNeil, 3, celebrates his three-run homer with teammate Francisco Lindor as the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto looks on during New York’s 8-2 win Saturday.

This isn’t what managing partner John Middleton had in mind when he authorized paying the luxury tax to sign Nick Castellanos for $100 million over five years after inking free agent Kyle Schwarber to a four-year, $79 million deal during the offseason. They have the fourth-highest MLB payroll at $233 million, yet are the only team in the top five that wouldn’t be in the playoffs.

With another bad week, Girardi’s job could be in jeop ardy and his seat could grow hotter. The Phillies already declined to pick up his fourth-year option, so his contract expires after this season.

Asked about his job security following Sunday’s crushing loss to the Mets, Girardi told reporters, “I don’t worry about my job. I’m never worried about my job.”

The Phils’ unproductive drafts and poor player development are two reasons why they find themselves in this predicament. The manager also bears some of the blame.

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Sunday night’s 5-4 loss to the Mets that completed a three-game sweep by New York consisted of a defensive mistake that cost the Phillies a pair of first-inning runs and a third blown save by closer Corey Knebel.

With runners on first and third and nobody out Sunday, first baseman Rhys Hoskins fielded a grounder and threw to second base, where shortstop Johan Camargo came off the bag to throw home too late to get lead runner Luis Guillorme at the plate. That left a runner, on second a run across and still no outs. That run was earned, but the next two off of starter Zack Wheeler weren’t since Hoskins received an error on the play.

Castellanos gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead with a three-run homer in the eighth inning, only for Knebel to give up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth on a Nick Plummer solo home run. The Mets won it off of Knebel in the 10th on Eduardo Escobar’s RBI double, marking the Phils’ third walk-off loss in 15 days.

While he insists effort isn’t the issue with the Phillies, Girardi admitted Monday that “when you went through a tough (stretch) we have and some of the excruciating losses we have, that’s not enjoyable.”

Still, he remains optimistic about his team.

“It’s tough,” Girardi said following Monday’s loss. “Everybody in that room has gone through hard times and you get to the other side or you wouldn’t be in that room. Sometimes what you’re going through seems like the worst thing that you’ve ever been through. If you look back, you can probably point to a spot where you got through it. They just got to continue to work, continue to grind it out — it’s going to turn. It’s going to. I believe in them.”

Poor fundamentals, lack of communication and other recurring issues keep resulting in Phillies’ losses.

On May 24, a ninth-inning fly ball by the Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. went off center fielder Roman Quinn’s glove when neither he nor right fielder Castellanos went for the ball near the fence with journeyman Nick Nelson inexplicably pitching a second frame. Atlanta won it 6-5 when next batter William Contreras singled, negating a Bryce Harper home run that had put the Phillies ahead by a run.

Rinse. Repeat.

“Regardless how you lose, it stings,” Hoskins said. “We’re losing tough games. We’re losing in some weird ways (and) losing late. But it is what it is — a loss. It stinks. But we just got to find a way to come ready to play tomorrow.”

“We’ve been through a grueling 2½ weeks and we’ve been through some really tough losses,” Girardi said. “They’ll respond.”

Knebel allowed a home run to the Giants’ Evan Longoria in the ninth inning Monday to put the Phils behind 3-2 in a game in which they led 2-0 on solo homers by Castellanos and Hoskins. Schwarber tied it at 3-3 with a home run in the bottom of the ninth, only for a two-run homer by Curt Casali off of Andrew Bellatti in the 10th gave San Francisco the lead for good.

“We haven’t met expectations so far, (but) we have too many good players and too many good pitchers for it to not turn around,” said Phillies starter Kyle Gibson, who allowed two runs in six innings. “That’s the basis of my belief.”

The Phillies had been 10 games out of first place in National League East at Memorial Day just twice before in the 21st century — in 2000 and 2017. They failed to win more than 66 games during either of those seasons.

Monday’s setback, coupled with the Mets’ win over the Nationals, moved the Phils 11½ games behind New York. It’d behoove Girardi to make sure that number doesn’t increase.

Tom Moore: [email protected]; @TomMoorePhilly

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Phillies, Joe Girardi had better start winning soon